Form 6 cadets from Oakham School Combined Cadet Force (CCF) are in the Telemark region of southern Norway undertaking their assessed Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition.
The actual four-day DofE expedition is across part of the Hardangervidda (Hardanger Plateau) 100 miles west of Oslo and will see the cadets covering approximately 25 km each day across this beautiful national park area which is larger than Cambridgeshire!
As is traditional with CCF DofE expeditions here at Oakham School, the expedition also includes elements of military history and 'battlefield touring'. The theme this year is the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ so the cadets are following the route taken by the small group of British-trained Norwegian Commandos who parachuted onto the plateau in late 1942 in what was then Nazi-occupied Norway before surviving the harsh winter and carrying out their attacks in early 1943. Working for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) the target for ‘Operation Gunnerside’ was the heavy water plant at Vermork which at the time was producing heavy water for the Nazi atomic weapons programme. This daring raid was successful and after the war it was described as the most successful act of sabotage of World War 2.
Updates of the trip are posted below by Captain Wright.
The 'R&R' day in Oslo saw blue skies and warm temperatures - perfect for sight-seeing! The cadets could choose what they did and most seemed to make good use of their day in one of Europe's more compact and pleasant capital cities. Destinations included the Viking longship exhibition and the Nobel Peace Prize Museum as well as the Norwegian Resistance Museum. Some hired electric scooters - the ideal cheap way to get around the city - and there was plenty of time to shop, eat and relax too. The cadets have worked hard over the last week and have all successfully completed their assessed Gold Expedition. They have also had plenty of time to appreciate all the things that Norway has to offer - especially the amazing scenery - as well as learning about using mountain huts and the concept of 'city camping'. We now head home, hoping to land at Heathrow at just after 1300 on Thursday, meaning that we'll be in Oakham for around 1700.
After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast we packed the trailer and headed up to the museum at Vemork. This houses various displays including the history of the development of Vemork and Rjukan. However, the main purpose of our visit is the site of the 'heavy water' plant that the Norwegian saboteurs attacked in 1943. Not only is there a display of their exploits as well as a video, but sitting outside tantalizingly under wraps are the basement rooms of the plant which housed the heavy water production and which were attacked. These have recently been excavated after 40 years of being buried. Once we had a quick group photo by the saboteurs' memorial we headed down to the train ferry port at Mael (another key link in the heavy water story) from where the stocks of heavy water were transported from Norway heading for Nazi Germany. Then our final stop of the day was at the memorial overlooking the site where the train ferry 'Hydro' was sunk in 1943 taking with it all the heavy water stocks, so thwarting the Nazi's nuclear ambitions. From there we headed for Oslo and after a lunch stop we arrived at the campsite, which overlooks the city centre with plenty of time to set up camp before driving out to McDonalds for dinner. Tomorrow brings the delights of Oslo where the cadets have a free day to see the main sights of this pleasant and compact capital city.
Day four - the final day - of the trek dawned chilly and with a little rain. With all teams within striking distance of the finish line at the top of the Krossobahnan, it would be one last push. The weather remained typical of a Norwegian summer with showers of rain interspersed with warm, sunny spells. Teams 1 and 3 made good time, finishing about 30 minutes apart and in good spirits. Team 2, despite an early start, had a few navigation problems and finished an few km up the valley. After a reviving hot chocolate, teams 1 and 3 took the Krossobahnan down to Rjukan before we all headed up the valley to collect team 2. Once all reunited, we headed back into town to check into the main hostel in town - the prospect of a hot shower and a comfy bed was very welcome to all the cadets! They then had a few hours to relax, wander around town or snooze before we headed out for the end of trek dinner. The setting was the lovely art deco Kino Kafe - the restaurant attached to the town cinema. After a good chat and a pizza, it was time to wander the short distance back to the hostel. The teams have all worked very well over the four days of the trek - long distances in very changeable weather - and can be rightly very proud of themselves!
The third day of the trek was fairly uneventful with all three teams continuing their move southward across the mountain plateau, Hardangervidda. Teams 1 and 3 reached the Kalhovd hut mid-afternoon and continued on their way a little further, wild camping overnight. Team 2 who had an overnight stop at Kalhovd worked their way further south towards the hut at Helberghytta where they camped. All teams seem in good spirits after three days walking, the weather today was mixed. Tomorrow sees the final push for the finish at the top of the Krossobahnan.
Day 2 of the trekking phase saw rain in varying degrees for most of the day which tested them all physically and emotionally, in addition to testing their rucksack packing and waterproofing skills! Teams 1 and 3 made good time from Solheimstulen and Rauhellern, arriving at the idyllic Marbu hut - at the head of Marfjord - at around 1700. The hearty welcome, warm beds, hot showers and drying rooms provided some respite although by evening the rain had cleared - just in time for them to cook dinner. After sitting, chatting and playing cards they headed for bed. After a good sleep and a light breakfast both teams left Marbu hut just before 0900 making the most of the forecasted good weather. Having camped at Marbu, team 2 headed for the hut at Kalhovd arriving at around 1700 after a long and slightly difficult day weather-wise. Again, after a hot shower and with a chance to dry their kit and clothes, spirits were lifted ahead of a good night's sleep.
The day started quite damp and the teams were ready when we arrived at the campsite. After some last minute checks and a final briefing for each team from Des, our assessor, we set off to the various start points. Lt Reeves walked out with team 2 for the first few kilometres whilst Lt Col Taylor and CI Copas walked out with team 1 to ensure they all had a smooth start. A little further up the road, Capt Wright and Des accompanied team 3. The weather brightened considerably during the morning so by lunchtime it was sunny and warm - a good start! Once the staff dropped back the teams continued on to their various day 1 finishing points at Rauhellern, Marbu and Solheimstulen.
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny and after a lie-in and some breakfast we headed up the valley to start the acclimatisation walk. After the long journey this was much needed and the weather didn't disappoint with sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens. We followed the zig-zag path that runs through the trees under the Krossobahnan (the cable car up to the plateau) - the same path that the saboteurs took in 1943 as they made their escape having blown up the heavy water plant at Vemork. It was a tough walk - 500 metres of vertical ascent - but all did well and the views and cafe at the top proved worthwhile. The cadets then carried on along a different path down which passes the mirrors installed on the hillside - placed there to direct sunlight into the town of Rjukan in the winter when the sun doesn't get high enough to shine into the valley. On reaching the town, it was time for lunch then expedition shopping time - all the more difficult in a foreign supermarket with strange foods and many brands that they weren't familiar with. On getting back to the camp site it was time to sort expedition bags, mark maps and generally get ready for the morning. Friday sees the start of the expedition as they face the challenge of being up on the Hardangervidda.
The first day in Norway went well with a smooth journey all round! After a very early start at Oakham, the cadets accompanied by Lt Col Taylor and CI Copas arrived at Heathrow and then had an uneventful BA flight to Oslo. After a bit of a wait they were collected by Capt Wright and Lt Reeves who left school on Monday for the long drive around via the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. After a brief stop at McDonalds, we headed for our base at Rjukan to the south of the Hardangervidda though not before getting caught up in the Oslo rush hour! We had a quick stop on the way to buy food for the evening and for breakfast tomorrow before completing the rest of the journey. Once at the campsite - nestling in the shadow of the Gaustatoppen, the mountain which dominates the area - the cadets wasted no time in getting their tents up and cooking dinner before bedding down for some well earned rest after a long day of travel.